Life on the Meme Council: Meet the Internet’s Gatekeepers


Hours spent moderating a week: Between 21 and 28

Mr. Johnson grew up on a farm in Oklahoma with a spotty internet connection. That meant that unlike many other council members, the first internet communities he was a part of were not on networks like 4chan, Reddit, Twitter or even Facebook, which could take longer to load.

Instead, he surfed JPToys.com, a website for fans of “Jurassic Park” toys, and BZpower.com, a fan site for the Lego toy line Bionicle (which has a hungry community of fans on social networks).

Much of what Mr. Johnson does for the site may seem like busy work: He makes sure images are properly tagged, and edited.

Mr. Johnson is an outdoorsman, and he has worked for the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. But online, he said, he has found people who share some of his more esoteric interests, such as Japanese video games like Touhou, which he knows a great deal about despite never having played it.

Those shared interests have made the meme council a comfortable place for Mr. Johnson, who feels close with several other moderators.

“Some mods I would be more open to telling certain things about my life than my family or real-life friends,” he said.

Steven Tieu / Age: 18 / Expertise: Miraculous Ladybug, Lolirock

Photo

A rendering of Mr. Tieu.

Based in: Oshawa, Ontario

First internet communities: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit

Hours spent moderating a week: “Pretty much all week for any time I can.”

A younger moderator, Mr. Tieu was introduced to KnowYourMeme in a little more standard way than Mr. Johnson was. He said that he was an outsider growing up and that social media platforms — first Facebook and YouTube and eventually Twitter and Reddit — allowed him to make connections more easily.

Mr. Tieu found himself gravitating to memes early, hoping to ensure that people understood their source material. He said he was drawn to KnowYourMeme for its value as a database.

“Yeah, I just kind of took stuff pretty seriously,” he said. “And then I just kind of mellowed out.”

Despite Mr. Tieu’s change in attitude, he continues as a prolific member of the meme council. He has helped write and edit dozens of pages on the site and created entries for the cartoons “Lolirock” and “Miraculous Ladybug,” a French-Korean cartoon that he remains passionate about.

Amanda Brennan / Age: 31 / Expertise: Tumblr Memes

Photo

Amanda Brennan’s workspace at Tumblr.

Based in: Westfield, N.J.

First internet communities: AOL chat rooms (specifically one devoted to the boy band Hanson), BBS forums

Hours spent moderating a week: Not available

Ms. Brennan is not on the meme council. A former staff member at Know Your Meme, she now works at Tumblr, where she works with various fan communities.

But while at KnowYourMeme, Ms. Brennan worked as a liaison between the council and the rest of the staff. She said recently that the site skews male and that most of the current moderators are men, something she thinks shapes the kinds of memes that are likely to be given entries (and another quality the site has in common with Wikipedia).

But Ms. Brennan said she thought a moderator’s age was as big an influence on on-site behavior as gender. And she praises moderators’ passion and thoroughness.

“I was the one always pushing them to cite their sources, and they’re like, ‘I already did,’” she said.

Chris Turnage / Age: 25 / Expertise: Bronies

Photo

Chris Turnage.

Based in: Fort Smith, Ark.

First internet communities: 4chan

Hours spent moderating a week: Three or four. (Mr. Turnage said he used to spend 20 to 30 hours a week, but changed his habits to focus on school and his personal life.)

Mr. Turnage began to interact with internet communities when a college friend showed him 4chan, a sprawling web forum where much of internet culture is spawned.

He was asked to join the meme council in 2014, after writing about 50 articles for the site.

One of Mr. Turnage’s main interests is the brony fandom, a community of adult fans of “My Little Pony.” When pushed, he said it would be fair to call him one of the world’s foremost brony historians.

“That’s actually what brought me to the site and started me editing articles,” he said.

Bronies, he said, are “just a real friendly personal community, kind of lighthearted and fun to be around. I had known what had gone on in the fandom and was able to expand on that.”

Like many of his peers on the meme council, Mr. Turnage moved frequently as a child and often had to fend for himself socially. One way he found to occupy himself led directly to the work he does for KnowYourMeme today.

“I like research,” he said. “I like to track down the source and kind of have it all there and kind of know the story.”

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